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Media Matters: December 27, 2002

27 December 2002, Volume 2, Number 48

The next issue of "RFE/RL Media Matters" will appear on 10 January 2003.
EU PASSES LAW HOLDING JOURNALISTS LIABLE FOR FAULTY ECONOMIC REPORTS. The European Union has approved a new law to fight abuses in financial markets under which European brokers, financial analysts, and journalists may face punishment if it is proved that their reports rely on false data and if they have an adverse impact on financial markets. A number of financial publications fear that the law would infringe on unwritten guidelines used by journalists. Robert Goebbels, a member of the European Parliament's Economics Committee, said that journalists will continue to do their work and must simply not cross a certain line in order to avoid facing a trial. Goebbels' statement has not, however, reassured some journalists. Francisco Balcemao, chairman of the European Council of Publishers, an organization opposed to the new law, believes that those political figures and officials who have taken up arms to fight terrorism should see to it that the liberty for which they fight does not degenerate into its opposite. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

EXPERTS: FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS SHOULD RESPECT FREE EXPRESSION. Three experts on freedom of expression representing the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have said that the World Trade Organization and other global financial institutions should respect freedom of expression and should allow governments and local media to promote diversity of opinions and wide access to information. At a two-day meeting in London in early December sponsored by Article 19, the free-expression rapporteurs said that powerful international institutions should consider the implications of their policies on human rights. In a joint declaration, the rapporteurs also condemned continuing attacks on journalists and the climate of impunity existing in many countries. They also called for attention to be paid to the increasing threat posed by media concentration to editorial independence and diversity. (IFEX Communique, 17 December)

JOURNALISTS TRAINED BY REUTERS FOUNDATION IN LONDON. Thirteen journalists from Afghanistan recently attended a 14-day, postconflict-reporting workshop at the Reuters Foundation in London dealing with basic journalistic principles and practices. The event, held from 25 November to 6 December, was sponsored by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Council, and the Reuters Foundation.

JOURNALIST SENTENCED FOR ESPIONAGE. A Yerevan court on 16 December sentenced Turkologist and former Foreign Ministry official Murad Bojolian to 10 years in prison on charges of spying for Turkey, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Bojolian, who since 1998 worked as a correspondent for a Turkish news agency, confessed to the charges immediately after his arrest in January but retracted the confession in July, saying it was made under fear of torture and for the fate of his family. According to Interfax, Bojolian was found to have passed to Turkish intelligence information about Armenia's military ties with Georgia, Iran, and Russia, as well as data about the Russian military base in Armenia, the armaments of the Armenian armed forces, and the activities in Armenia of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Armenian officials have consistently denied repeated Turkish allegations that the PKK has training camps in Armenia. Bojolian's wife, Lyudmila, told RFE/RL she will appeal the sentence at the European Court of Human Rights. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December)

JOURNALISTS STAGE PROTEST. Several hundred journalists and human rights activists staged a protest in Baku on 12 December against increasing pressure on the independent media, Turan reported. Participants noted in particular the 10 lawsuits brought against the independent newspaper "Yeni Musavat" over the past month. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December)

ASSAULT ON OPPOSITION PAPER CONTINUES. Members of the Association of Reserve Officers picketed the editorial offices of opposition paper "Yeni Musavat" on 8 December. They read a statement saying that unless the paper ceases publishing reports dirtying the army, "other measures" will be taken against it. The paper's staff believe that the demonstration was organized by the Defense Ministry, which has been a frequent target of the paper. Four days later, three unidentified assailants attacked Azer Aikhan, the brother of Rauf Arifoglu, "Yeni Musavat's" editor in chief. One of Aikhan's neighbors, who is also a colleague, rushed to Aikhan's rescue, causing the assailants to run off. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF ANS TV. On 13 December, a Baku court ruled that the ANS TV station had been libeled by the paper "Novoe vremya" and its staffer Rustam Seidov. The paper and Seidov were ordered to pay a fine of 150 million manats ($30,750) and to publish an apology to the ANS management, the Turan news agency reported the same day. The libel suit resulted from an article by Seidov in which he sharply criticized ANS reporting on the Nardaran protests earlier this year. CC

CONVICTED JOURNALIST TO BEGIN SERVING TWO-YEAR TERM. Viktar Ivashkevich, editor in chief of the Minsk-based independent newspaper "Rabochy" and deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front (Vyachorka's faction), has been ordered by police to arrive by 17 December at a labor colony in Baranavichy (Brest Oblast), where he must serve a sentence of two years of "restricted freedom" for defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belapan reported on 13 December. Ivashkevich's case stems from an article titled "Thief Must Be In Prison" in a special edition of the newspaper published during last year's presidential campaign. The edition never reached readers, since all copies were seized by police. The story implicated Lukashenka and his entourage in serious economic crimes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December)

OSCE NOTES PROGRESS IN DRAFT PUBLIC-BROADCASTING LAW. On 18 December, the head of the OSCE mission to Croatia noted that with a few revisions, a draft law on Croatian Radio-Television (HRT) could provide a good basis for a new law. An OSCE-funded analysis had recommended changes to strengthen the independence of the HRT Broadcasting Council and to ensure programming independence for radio and television. It also stressed that Croatia's priority in reforming its media legislation should be to adopt a broadcasting law in line with the EU and the Council of Europe and that would provide a basis for democratic structuring of public and private broadcasting. Visit or contact

POLICE CONFISCATE FOOTAGE OF CHECHEN DETENTION. Police officers in Tbilisi's Saburtali district on 7 December roughed up reporters from Kavkasia TV and confiscated their camera as they tried to film the detention of a group of Chechens residing in Georgia. Police later returned the camera, which had been damaged, while the cassette it had contained was not returned. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

PREMIER WINS LAWSUIT AGAINST OPPOSITION DAILY. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on 17 December won a lawsuit against the opposition "Magyar Nemzet" daily in the Metropolitan Court, Budapest dailies reported. On 19 June, the daily published a note allegedly signed by Medgyessy that said he headed a Finance Ministry committee in 1976 examining the National Savings Bank and the state insurance company for potential anticommunist "counterrevolutionary-movement leaders." Another article published in the same issue of the daily claimed that Medgyessy made reports to the so-called III/III communist-era state-security department at the Interior Ministry. The court ruled that the paper created the false impression that Medgyessy had signed the document and falsely reported that the prime minister had made reports to the state-security department. The court ordered the daily to publish a correction on its front page within eight days. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December)

LAUNCH OF NEW PERSIAN-LANGUAGE SERVICE TO IRAN. Radio Farda, a unique Persian-language radio service designed to give Iranians additional news, information, reports on public affairs, and entertainment went on the air on 19 December, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) announced. The BBG is an independent federal agency that supervises all U.S. government-supported, nonmilitary, international broadcasting, including the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Radio and TV Marti, and WORLDNET Television. "Iran is a country where 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30, and many of those brave young people are leading the fight for democracy and freedom in their country," said Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the BBG. "We created Radio Farda so we can serve these Iranians -- in fact, all Iranians -- better," Tomlinson said. "Meanwhile, our popular Voice of America Persian programs on radio, television, and Internet will continue their excellent work in reaching the Iranian people." Radio Farda ( will be broadcast around-the-clock on medium wave (AM 1593 and AM 1539) and digital audio satellite and 21 hours a day on shortwave. Streaming audio on the Internet will begin shortly. Norman Pattiz, a BBG member and chairman of the Middle East Committee, said Radio Farda expands the amount of news and information Iranians have been receiving from existing services. In an opinion piece in "The Wall Street Journal" on 16 December, however, Senator Jesse Helms (Republican, North Carolina) said that the new youth-oriented Radio Farda is dominated by "American and local pop tunes delivered with a spoonful of headline news content." In Helms' view, Radio Farda "likely will insult the cultural sensitivities of the Iranians, as well as their intelligence."

JOURNALIST'S TRIAL GETS UNDER WAY. Journalist Sergei Duvanov went on trial in Kazakhstan on rape charges on 24 December. Duvanov, who has reported extensively on secret Swiss bank accounts reportedly held by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, claims the charges are politically motivated. Duvanov is charged with the rape of an underage girl that is alleged to have occurred at his dacha. The OSCE, along with several human rights organizations, have expressed alarm over the arrest of Duvanov, who was taken into custody on 28 October, the day before he was set to leave for the United States to deliver a speech to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington on Kazakhstan's human rights situation and to receive a journalism award from the New York-based International League for Human Rights. The United States has also urged Kazakhstan to give Duvanov a fair trial and noted that there have been cases of media harassment in the country. Duvanov edits the weekly bulletin of the International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Almaty. This is not the first time an unusual event has taken place before he was scheduled to leave the country. On 28 August, on the eve of an OSCE conference in Warsaw, where Duvanov was scheduled to discuss human rights and the media in Kazakhstan, he was attacked by three masked men outside his Almaty apartment, viciously beaten, and slashed with a knife. Despite his injuries, he attended the meeting. (RTR, 24 December)

NEW PUBLIC MEDIA COUNCIL SET UP. President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 19 December signed a decree to set up a Public Media Council that will report to him and is supposed to involve the public in the formulation of state information policy. The committee will advise the president on improving media legislation and protecting the interests and rights of the media sector and its workers. The council will be headed by Seitkazi Mataev, the current chairman of the Kazakh Union of Journalists. Well-known journalists and managers of independent, particularly regional, media outlets will sit on the council. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

PAPER CONFISCATED EN ROUTE TO PARTY. The National Security Committee on 8 December seized 1,000 copies of the paper "Assandi-Times" at Pavlodar airport. The papers had been intended for the city's branch of the opposition party Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan. On the same day, a police officer seized copies of the same paper as it was en route to Janatas for the local branch of the same party. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

PAVLODAR PAPER'S WEBSITE BLOCKED. Reports were made public on 9 December that the website of the Pavlodar paper "Vesti Pavlodara" had been blocked. The website had published critical reports about certain highly placed city officials, in particular Pavlodar Oblast Governor Daniyal Akhmetov. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

MEDIA-MANAGEMENT PROGRAM. The International Center for Journalists is seeking nine print journalists, editors, and managers from independent publications and news agencies in Kazakhstan for a 26-day training program in the United States in March 2003 and a four-week program in Kazakhstan in June of 2003. Applications are available at

GOVERNMENT SCRAPS PRIVATIZATION OF PUBLISHING HOUSE. The government has declared void the privatization of state-run Nova Makedonija publishing house (NIP), "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 18 December. According to government spokesman Saso Colakovski, the privatization is no longer valid because the buyer, the Slovenian consortium Jug-Storitve, did not fulfill its part of the deal. The government named a trustee to manage the NIP until a new tender is issued in January. In a press release, Jug-Storitve protested the government's decision and demanded an independent inquiry. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December)

RADIO LICENSE DENIED. The Moldovan Broadcast Coordinating Council on 10 December rejected radio station Vocea Basarabiei's application for a renewal of its license. The station had aired programs from the Voice of America, RFE/RL, and the BBC. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

OSCE AND COUNCIL OF EUROPE: JOURNALISTS SHOULD NOT BE JAILED FOR DEFAMATION. On 16 December, the OSCE and the Council of Europe protested a one-month prison term for a former editor in chief of the Montenegrin daily "Dan" and urged the Montenegrin authorities to revise Montenegrin legislation to decriminalize slander and libel. The letter was signed by the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Freimut Duve; the acting head of the OSCE mission to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Mark Davison; and the Council of Europe's special envoy for Yugoslavia, Verena Taylor. See or contact

REGIONAL MEDIA TOLD TO KEEP MUM ABOUT PUTIN'S PHONE CHAT... Oleg Dobrodeev, chairman of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), directed personnel at regional state-owned television companies not to release any information about preparations for President Putin's live call-in show on 19 December, reported on 15 December, citing Svetlana Voitovich, the director of the Novosibirsk television studio. State television and radio broadcast Putin's answers to questions collected from across the Russian Federation on 19 December. Voitovich told that only representatives of VGTRK in Moscow were authorized to comment on preparations for the call-in program. Putin answered 47 questions during a similar live program last December; commentators said that show had been rehearsed extensively in advance. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December)

...AS POSTAL WORKERS MAN LINES... One of the 60 postal workers who fielded questions from callers for President Vladimir Putin's live call-in show noted that she felt like a psychologist. Most callers, she told "The Moscow Times" on 19 December, were pensioners, and many felt better just having someone listen to them. The postal contingent who manned 60 lines was supplemented by 480 channels equipped with an automatic answering service. All this was buttressed by a combination of Kremlin personnel, the state-controlled ORT and RTR television channels, the Communications Ministry, and private companies. Mobile television stations were set up in many remote villages where people gathered around a reporter linked to Putin's Kremlin studio, the paper noted. A special call center and website received well over a million calls. The equipment automatically detected the origin of each call and processed its contents. ("The Moscow Times," 19 December)

...AND PRESIDENT ANSWERS PUBLIC'S QUESTIONS. President Putin on 19 December answered questions from the public in a live appearance broadcast over national television, radio, and the Internet, Russian news agencies reported. In a two-hour session, Putin answered 51 questions covering many aspects of domestic and foreign policy, as well as questions about his personal preferences, Interfax reported. The event was announced about two weeks in advance and in the interim the presidential administration received 1.2 million questions, from which advisers chose the ones they deemed most topical. Asked about the possibility of restoring the Russian monarchy, Putin said this is not desirable because Russia has not yet firmly established a multiparty democracy. "It is true that monarchies complying with democratic norms exist in countries like Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Spain, but in Russia I cannot imagine how [democratic] executive authority could be formed," Putin said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December)

SPS LEADER CALLS FOR PARTIES TO BEHAVE DURING NEXT ELECTION. Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) faction deputy head Irina Khakamada has called on all political parties to adopt an "honor code" and to promise not to use "black public relations" in the upcoming elections, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 December. She also suggested adopting legislation that would ban the use of the image of President Putin in political advertising three months before elections. She explained that many parties "play up" their relationship with the president during election campaigns. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December)

HIGH-LEVEL MEETING ON MEDIA-LAW AMENDMENTS IS PARTLY CLOSED TO JOURNALISTS. A 10 December meeting was held in Moscow to discuss amendments to the media law. The Russian government was represented by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Federal Security Committee Director Nikolai Patrushev, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, Federal Border Guard Service Director Konstantin Totskii, and Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergei Lebedev. The Industrial Committee, which unites the heads of major media organizations, was represented by its president, Konstantin Ernst; ORT Deputy General Director Marat Gelman; Russian Mediagroup President Sergei Arkhipov; Sem Dnei publishing house President Dmitrii Biryukov; "Moskovskii komsomolets" Editor in Chief Pavel Gusev; Video International group President Yurii Zapol; and REN-TV head Irena Lesnevskaya. Other media outlets were represented by VGTRK Chairman Oleg Dobrodeev. Press Minister Mikhail Lesin and Ernst presented keynote addresses that stressed the key role of the media and the security agencies in relation to terrorism. After their presentations, journalists were told to leave the hall. The meeting continued behind closed doors for another 40 minutes. After the meeting, Ernst said that the ministers had considered a draft antiterrorist convention that will soon be sent to leading media managers for signature. The security and defense chiefs "were invited to offer cooperation," journalists were told. The heads of the Industrial Committee had asked the security and defense chiefs to educate "a cadre of personnel" in their ministries for this purpose. The ministers and directors promised to consider this request. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

PROTOCOL SIGNED ON LEGAL REFORM OF MEDIA. A Protocol on Cooperation between the Russian Federation Council, the State Duma, the Russian Press Ministry, and the Industrial Committee to improve media legislation was signed on 10 December. The signatories promised to update and pass amendments to Article 4 of the law on the mass media and Article 15 of the antiterrorism law. The resulting amendments are to reflect President Putin's views. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

TVS GETS NEW GENERAL DIRECTOR. Ruslan Terekbaev, former general director of Radio Maximum, has been named general director of TVS, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported on 18 December, citing TVS's press office. Terekbaev replaces Oleg Kiselev, who has been named chairman of the station's board of directors. Earlier, the station's journalists threatened a mass resignation if former Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh were appointed TVS general director. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Terekbaev, 43, "represented the interests of [oligarch] Oleg Deripaska" on the TVS board of directors. From 1991 to 2000, he was on the board of directors of "Moskovskie novosti," and in the early 1990s, he worked on a joint project to publish a Russian-language version of "The New York Times." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December)

IS NTV DIRECTOR IN HOT WATER WITH PUTIN? There is speculation that NTV General Director Boris Jordan faces the real possibility of being removed from his post. During a recent meeting with managers of media outlets, President Putin criticized "a certain [unnamed] channel" for showing preparations for storming the theater where hostages were held during the 23-26 October crisis in Moscow. Journalists believe that Putin's reprimand will probably not be the end of the story. Jordan has ordered a -- so far -- private but detailed in-house investigation of NTV's coverage of the hostage crisis. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

JOURNALISTS BARRED FROM SLAVNEFT AUCTION. Despite previous government pledges that the 18 December Slavneft auction would be "unprecedentedly transparent," the process was characterized by a large number of scandals and intrigues,,, and other Russian news agencies noted on 18 December. The complete list of the seven entities that did participate was not released to the public, and journalists were not allowed to observe the auction. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December)

ALL SPORTS, ALL THE TIME. Russia will have its own dedicated all-sports television channel within the next two to three months, and other Russian news agencies reported on 16 December. State Sports Committee Chairman Vyacheslav Fetisov made the announcement following a 15 December meeting of the committee, which was attended by President Putin. Russian Olympic Committee head Leonid Tyagchev emphasized that Putin supports the idea of creating such a channel. Putin told the committee that in 2003, the government will double its spending on athletics and sports. Putin also said he believes the composition of the State Sports Committee should be expanded to include at least one representative of an organization for handicapped athletes, reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December)

DUMA DEPUTY LAMENTS KGB-IZATION, MEDIA REPRESSION. State Duma Security Committee Deputy Chairman Yurii Shchekochikhin (Yabloko) told journalists in Samara on 17 December that he has the impression that Russia has "returned again to the period at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s," reported. "Now in Russia a like-mindedness is observable absolutely everywhere...a constant fear and the strengthening of the position of the first committee for state security," he continued. "For any society, the KGB-ization of the government is an abnormal occurrence," Shchekochikhin added. In terms of the media, he noted that Russia ranks second after Algeria in terms of the number of journalists killed and that any official can now go to court against a newspaper and receive "a completely abnormal sum in compensation" that can close a publication down. He also noted that websites containing false information keep popping up for one day and then disappear. But somehow "all publications manage to comment on this information," he noted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December)

SECRET COURT SENTENCES FSB 'TRAITOR' WHO SOLD SECRETS TO MEDIA. The chief of the FSB's Internal Security Department, Sergei Shishin, has said that an unidentified FSB officer pled guilty to charges of selling classified information to Media-MOST for a number of years and was sentenced by a secret court over the summer to "several years" in prison, reported on 17 December. At the time, Media-MOST was the flagship company of tycoon Vladimir Gusinskii and its security department was largely staffed by former KGB and FSB officers who were involved in "the total surveillance of Gusinskii's opponents." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December)

IRKUTSK COURT FINDS IN FAVOR OF JOURNALISTS. A justice of the peace in Irkutsk has closed the case against the staff of the AS Baikal television company "because they had not committed any administrative offense." A journalist and cameraman from the AS Baikal news service were detained at a police station in Irkutsk on 28 November, although they had prior permission to be there. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

COMMUNIST CALLS FOR 'RUSSIAN' TV CHANNEL. Speaking at the opening of the seventh annual World Russian Peoples' Congress in Moscow on 17 December, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov called for the transformation of the nonprofit, arts-oriented Kultura television channel into a "Russian television channel." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December)

NEWSPAPER FOR CHINESE DIASPORA APPEARS IN SIBERIAN REGION. The first edition of the Chinese-language newspaper "China" has appeared in Krasnoyarsk, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 16 December. The intended audience for the newspaper, which is owned by a local entrepreneur, is the Chinese diaspora in Krasnoyarsk. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December)

REPORT DISCUSSES MEDIA CONTROL, SELF-CENSORSHIP IN DAGHESTAN. In the Republic of Daghestan, apparently complete freedom of speech masks the "complete absence" of that freedom, according to a new report prepared by the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. Available at, the report reviews the media landscape in Daghestan and describes the tactics used by the regional authorities, and to a lesser extent by local religious leaders, to maintain obedience from journalists, though Daghestan has no overt censorship and no media laws that contradict federal legislation. The author notes that "not a single newspaper that criticized the government has survived," and journalists who in theory can criticize anyone and anything are instead "fearful," preferring to "live harmoniously" with the powers that be. The center has also posted similar reports on the press in Chechnya and Ingushetia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December)

REPORTERS IN CHECHNYA: SOVIET-STYLE TOUR? Fred Weir, a reporter from "Christian Science Monitor," said that a military-guided tour journalists were given of Chechnya in early December reminded him of the Soviet Union. "The group was tightly controlled, prevented from meeting ordinary Chechens, and at one point locked in our bus to block contact with women protesting about disappeared relatives," Weir said. Several plainclothes agents tagged behind reporters, even trying to record their talks with people with whom they were allowed to meet. While Weir noted that some security precautions were probably needed, "many of these measures had the distinct effect of undermining the main claim the Kremlin wanted to make by bringing us to Grozny in the first place: that the war is over and life is returning to normal in Chechnya." ("Christian Science Monitor," 16 December)

NEW STATUS FOR RUSSIAN STATE TV IN EURONEWS. A general assembly of Euronews shareholders on 11 December announced that it has approved the sale of a 16 percent stake in the company to VGTRK, ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. As a result, VGTRK can now take part in management decisions for the channel, Euronews officials said. In the summer of 2001, VGRTK bought its first 1.8 percent of stock in Euronews, which launched its Russian service on 17 September 2001. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December, "Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

'AWARD' FOR BAD JOURNALISM INAUGURATED. The Union of Journalists and the Duma's Subcommittee on the Youth Press have announced the creation of a prize for the most unreliable press report, RosBalt reported on 15 December. The Golden Duck (Zolotaya utka) award will be presented annually, and "anyone who feels they have been victimized by incorrect information published in the press" can make a nomination, said subcommittee Chairman Andrei Vulf (SPS). Organizers hope that the publicity will encourage greater journalistic accuracy and responsibility. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December)

OSCE WELCOMES HANDOVER OF SERBIAN BROADCASTING AGENCY PREMISES. On 18 December, the OSCE mission to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia welcomed the official handover of the new premises of the recently established Republican Broadcasting Agency to the president of the Serbian parliamentary Committee for Culture and Information. The Republican Broadcasting Agency, created under the law on broadcasting, is supported by the OSCE mission in cooperation with the European Agency for Reconstruction (EAR). The OSCE and the EAR offer of support to the agency includes technical equipment, training of the agency's staff, and drafting of internal by-laws and licensing criteria. The OSCE will also offer a permanent international adviser to the not yet fully staffed broadcasting agency council. The deadline for the appointment of the agency's eight council members expired on 25 October. Visit or contact

OSCE CRITICIZES TURKMEN MEDIA COVERAGE OF PRESIDENTIAL ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve told the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 12 December that Turkmen state television's coverage of the investigation into the reported 25 November attempt to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov is reminiscent of the show trials of the Stalin era, Reuters reported. Duve reminded Turkmenistan that, as a member of the OSCE, it is part of the "family of declared democracies." It nonetheless uses the media, Duve continued, "to humiliate and terrorize" any perceived critics of the regime. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December)

CONFESSION BY ACCUSED U.S. CITIZEN TELEVISED... Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova also said that Leonid Komarovsky, an American citizen arrested last month in Ashgabat, had met with former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov and had agreed to write a proclamation from the conspirators to be read to the country after President Niyazov's assassination, AP and Turkmen television reported. The same day, Komarovsky appeared on national television to apologize for his role, saying he became involved in the plan by accident by purchasing satellite telephones for the plotters. "I am ready to atone for my guilt and to do my best to find the masterminds of this crime," he said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December)

...AND BY FORMER TURKMEN OFFICIAL. In a further television confession on 18 December, former Foreign Minister Batyr Berdyev said his role in the conspiracy was to contact foreign embassies following President Niyazov's removal to ensure that the new government was internationally recognized. In addition to Berdyev, another top official now in custody in connection with the assassination bid is former Tashoguz Province Governor Yazgeldy Gundogdyev, RIA-Novosti reported on 18 December. Former parliamentary speaker Tagandurdy Khallyev has also been implicated. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December)

CRIMEAN COURT OVERTURNS ARREST ORDER FOR EDITOR. On 9 December, the Criminal College of the Crimean Appeals Court overturned the ruling of the Simferopol Central District Court ordering the arrest of Volodymyr Lutyev, editor of the weekly "Yevpatoriiskaya nedelya." Lutyev was, however, ordered to remain in town. Lutyev was detained on 11 November on suspicion of planning the murder of Mykola Kotlyarevskyy, a member of the Crimean legislature. Lutyev's lawyer said that his client also faces six embezzlement charges relating to the same criminal case opened in 1995 and closed for lack of evidence. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

EIGHT YEARS OF THREATS AGAINST REPORTER. On 10 December, the Institute of Mass Information asked the Zaporizhzhya Oblast prosecutor to investigate the case of reporter Andriy Banyuk of the paper "Ukrayina moloda." For eight years, Banyuk has been the subject of telephoned and written death threats. Banyuk attributes this campaign to articles he has written that have been critical of local and national authorities. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

JOURNALIST IN DONETSK HAS GONE MISSING. On 10 December, it was made public that Oleksandr Panich, a reporter for the paper "Donetskie novosti" has been missing since 18 November. He had taken leave from work to sell his apartment. The prosecutor's office has opened an investigation. The oblast police have three suspects they believe were involved in Panich's disappearance. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 9-15 December)

EUROPEAN UNION TO SUPPORT MEDIA PROJECTS IN WESTERN BALKANS. Media and media-related organizations in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and the former Republic of Macedonia, or in the European Union, are invited to apply for grants from the 1.5 million-euro ($1.54 million) fund of the European Commission. Media organizations eligible for grants include trade associations, trade unions, public journalism-training schools and universities, and nongovernmental organizations. Proposals are due by 24 February 2003. For more information, see

IWPR PLANS COURSES IN BELARUS, SERBIA, TAJIKISTAN. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) will conduct seminars for journalists in Belarus (January), Serbia (November), and Tajikistan in 2003 (at various times). See


By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Little opportunity remains for the Belarusian independent media after this year's fierce government crackdown. By the reckoning of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAZh), at least seven newspapers have been closed through court actions or refusal to extend licenses, and others have gone out of business due to the harsh economic climate. Viktar Ivashkevich, editor in chief of the weekly "Rabochy"; Pavel Mazheyka, editor in chief of another weekly, "Pohonya"; and Mikola Markevich, a journalist from "Pohonya," have lost their freedom, their publications, and their professions. They were sentenced to work in state-owned factories for terms ranging from one to two years as punishment for articles allegedly libeling Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka by questioning such sensitive topics as arms sales to Iraq, and they are now barred from practicing journalism (see "Belarus: Council Of Europe Committee Says Human Rights Situation Is Deteriorating,", 18 December 2002).

Eager to preserve a monopoly of state-owned or loyalist publications, the government has raised post-office delivery fees for the independent press by 66 percent, while continuing subsidies for state-controlled media, the BAZh reported in an appeal to the international community that was translated and published by the International Helsinki Federation in November. Presidential decrees to increase sales tax and further subsidize office rental for state publications also put independents at a decided disadvantage.

Six Belarusian newspaper editors who recently toured U.S. cities on the USIA International Visitors' Program and spoke with "RFE/RL Media Matters" say such arrests of journalists and punitive economic measures appear designed not only to punish offenders in last year's presidential elections but to ensure even further government control before elections to local town councils in March 2003, where the local press is expected to play a crucial role.

Ramuald Ulan, editor of "Novaya gazeta Smargoni," cited local opinion polls in support of Uladzimir Goncharik, the united opposition candidate in the 2001 presidential elections, at 27 percent in his town of Smargon, in contrast to 11 percent in neighboring Ostrovets, which has no independent paper. Uladzimir Shparlo, editor in chief of "Vechernii Brest," said support for Goncharik reached 30 percent in his city, which is served by two independent papers. They attribute the difference in these polls to the very presence of an independent press willing to cover alternative candidates ignored or pilloried by state media.

As survivors of an unprecedented government crackdown, these editors believe that with increased Western pressure and assistance, they may still have a fighting chance to cover next year's local elections independently. They need increased expert legal aid to fight off arbitrary government lawsuits and to cut through bureaucratic red tape in legalizing new publications. "Novaya gazeta Smargoni," for example, has tried for 18 months to open up another city edition but faces refusals from the local executive on the grounds of phony Fire Code or Labor Code violations. Why such obstruction? "So the provinces won't wake up," said another editor, who cited one official who told him bluntly in refusing authorization to publish: "We don't need another newspaper here. We already have one."

Like opposition leaders and other intellectuals in Belarus, these provincial-newspaper editors share a strong belief that Belarusian people, especially in remote areas, do not watch Belarusian State Television, or do not watch television at all, because they cannot purchase new television sets or repair broken ones. This premise has not been verified through detailed opinion polls, but it is generally accepted by media analysts that many Belarusians rely on television stations broadcasting from Russia to get what they view as more-objective and more-entertaining programming. Belarusians also rely on radio stations, both Russian stations and Western broadcasting, as a supplement to the Belarusian government's Radio Tochka, upon which as many as 30 percent of rural listeners rely.

Editors also believe newspapers are far more influential and durable in the long run, despite their difficulties with low circulation, than local so-called nongovernmental, or commercial, television stations. They criticized a U.S. government program to provide equipment and training to 18 local television stations, saying such support essentially aided only the local "vertikal," or top-down command system established under President Lukashenka. "They never sail against the wind," commented one editor, who said that no critical coverage of the president or significant opposition coverage was available on these stations before parliamentary or presidential elections. While they are technically formed as "nongovernmental organizations," these stations are wholly dependent on government transmission facilities and local officials, he said.

By contrast, newspapers can play a more cutting-edge role in building a grassroots constituency for change. Writers can be bolder in print than on the air. In terms of public trust, the newsmen also contrasted their role to that of opposition groups and NGOs, which they tended to view with the hard-bitten scorn of journalists around the world. "We get up every morning and come to work and produce a product, and it is out there for the public to see," commented one editor, who felt opposition parties and NGOs were not as accountable to the public about their activities.

Unlike the shifting and splitting political movements with an uncertain following, newspaper editors say they have faithful personnel and subscribers to whom they must be responsive, or lose business. The harsh political climate for media and the prosecution of their colleagues does indeed mean they have grown more cautious, however. Editors find themselves being far more careful about what journalists say, and they trust their subscribers to read between the lines and reporters not to write outside them. One technique for avoiding libel charges directly is to reprint Western publications or compilations of Minsk national newspapers.

Unlike large-format papers in Minsk, these provincial papers are generally smaller, eight pages in size, in part due to printing and distribution costs. The newsprint still carries the familiar layout, font style, and wood-pulp scent of the Soviet era. At least half of the space in these publications goes to television guides, classified ads, and poetry or humor to ensure popular appeal. Human-interest features about pensioners trying to make ends meet, poor economic conditions, and struggling stores run alongside items on Western movie stars or local culture and religion. Although there is a widespread perception that the Belarusian-language media was essentially suppressed with the closure of "Pohonya" and other such papers, these papers actually publish in Belarusian, with some Russian-language articles and ads.

Despite limitations, these papers provide a welcome contrast to state-controlled papers devoid of political content or attuned only to presidential directives. An issue of "Novaya gazeta Smargoni" ran a front-page story about vandals who had destroyed a cemetery, a critical editorial comment on the death penalty, and a photo and captions about an opposition march in Minsk for Belarusian independence. "Regiyanalnaya gazeta" featured a cover news article about the suspicious death of Mykhaylo Kolomiyets, the director of the Ukrayinski novyny news agency, who was found hanging from a tree in Maladzechna, and noted that relatives and colleagues questioned the official version of suicide. "Infa-Kurier" carried a piece about the uncovering of a Nazi-era grave in Slutsk and, perhaps a garden perennial for Belarus, a story about bread production in Sologorsk. When a reporter touched on the delicate issue of quality, he got this deadpan reply from a bread-factory director: "What is bread? It is flour, water, salt, yeast, technology -- plus the degree of a person's mastery." The same could be said of the local press in Belarus. Their ingredients are simple, and limitations obvious, but what they make of themselves depends on their ingenuity.